For any young male hockey player growing up in the State of Hockey, apart from the hope to be good enough to play college hockey is the dream of making it to the NHL. As a kid growing up in Elk River, Minnesota I remember hearing stories and eventually watching former Elks and Bemidji State phenom Joel Otto win a Stanley Cup in 1989 with the Calgary Flames. The big power forward defied the odds to make a college team when admittedly our local hockey program was a shadow of what it has been the last 10 years. He was a local hero, and a great example for future Elk River hockey players to follow who just a few summers ago was tagged to be the marshall for the town’s annual parade. Otto had a long and successful career in the NHL and even earned a spot on the 1998 U.S. Olympic team roster. Towards the end of Otto’s NHL career, another Elk River (who was born in Leesburg, Florida but raisted in Minnesota) kid, Dan Hinote left for West Point military academy, and little did he know that his first season playing in the “Ivy League” for Knights would garner considerable interest from NHL scouts who liked his high energy style of play. Hinote made the tough decision of leaving West Point after being a 7th round selection by the Colorado Avalanche in 1996. It wasn’t an instant transition from being a cadet to the NHL, he would have to work his way up the ranks first by going to play in Canadian Major Junior for the Oshawa Generals and then on to the AHL with the Avalanche’s farm team the Hershey Bears. After two seasons in the AHL he finally earned his cup of coffee in the NHL and delivered some timely goals in the playoffs as Colorado went on to win a Stanley Cup in 2001. Hinote’s NHL career has likely subsided after no team signed him this last summer and is currently playing for MoDo Ornskoldsvik in the Swedish Eliteserien on a team that features Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund. Just as Hinote’s NHL career was taking off, Elk River had perhaps its brightest young hockey star to ever play in the community in super talented athlete Paul Martin (he is still the all-time leading reciever in Minnesota High School football history as well as being a standout in baseball, and was also an excellent basketball player). In 2000, in the first entry draft that the Minnesota Wild ever participated in the New Jersey Devils selected Minnesota’s “Mr. Hockey” in the 2nd round (62nd Overall). Martin first honed his game at the University of Minnesota for three seasons, two of those seasons ended by winning NCAA National Championships. After being apart of the University of Minnesota’s 2003 championship squad he opted to go pro where he immediately joined the Devils. He has been a steady presence for the Devils that seemed to lose veteran leadership shortly after his arrival with the retirement of Scott Stevens and the departure of Scott Niedermayer to the Anaheim Ducks. Martin was selected to be apart of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team but a wrist injury forced him to withdraw his name but his NHL future is still glowing bright as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. So where am I going with this? Well with the Wild’s signing of Elk River’s Nate Prosser, after having a solid senior season where he put up 4 goals, 28 points in 39 games for Colorado College you have to wonder if he’s feeling any pressure to live up to some pretty high standards by a few other members of his alma mater. Then again, perhaps he’s just happy that he’s another step closer to his ultimate dream. Who wouldn’t be, as Prosser may have felt he would earn his shot as a member of the St. Louis Blues after attending a prospect camp a few summers ago. Now he gets to be apart of the organization from his homestate. The 6’2″, 210lbs defenseman is an above average skater with good hockey sense and plays a physical two-way game. Prosser will stay with the Wild for the remainder of the season, and who knows he may even get a taste of NHL action yet as will fellow college signee Casey Wellman.
So what will the signing of Prosser and Wellman mean for tonight’s game in Nashville. In all honesty, not too much as both teams are places where it encourges them to forego experimenting with their lineup as it it continues to be such a tight race for the final two spots in the Western Conference playoff picture.
7. Nashville Predators – 83pts
8. Detroit Red Wings – 80pts
9. Calgary Flames – 79pts
10. Minnesota Wild – 74pts
11. St. Louis Blues – 73pts
12. Dallas Stars – 73pts
13. Anaheim Ducks – 72pts
As you can see just a difference of 11 points separates 7 teams, with the Wild 9 points behind 7th place Nashville. The Predators have been on a roll as of late as they try to hold off a late-season surge by division rival Detroit. That really has also been Minnesota’s problem as it to looks for a late-season push to sneak into the Western Conference’s top 8. Even in the Wild’s latest advancement by winning the last 3 games, two closest teams in front of Minnesota have both won their last 3 games which neutralizes their progress. While you can’t worry about what other team’s do it is sometimes tough to keep working hard when you feel like all you’re doing is treading water. Will the Wild take another chance to advance in the standings or will the Predators make the Wild their latest prey?
The Wild were prey, and not the kind where you respect for doing all they can to survive but rather the pathetic helpless prey that made things easy for these Predators. After first 5 minutes of this game the Wild gave up a cheap goal off a bad turnover near its blueline and the Predators struck on the breakaway and Minnesota was never the same. Most of the Wild stopped skating and started watching and the game was lost in the 1st period. Josh Harding found himself to be left out all alone with minimal defensive support and bad luck with an equipment malfunction distracted him enough to give up that late-period goal to Jason Arnott.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Wild’s loss was the fact they were only able to generate 17 shots on goal. 17 shots in a game they absolutely had to have in a game that felt remarkably like the one they played against Florida. Even when the Predators handed the Wild scoring chances they didn’t capitalize and the team’s spirits would again bottom out. The Wild just were did not show nearly enough urgency. Even throughout most of the 2nd period a time where a team who truly felt the urgency the moment required should’ve been really pressing the attack and doing whatever it could to pepper Pekka Rinne with scoring chances. Instead they did not even register a shot until 13 minutes into the period. In the 3rd period it wasn’t much better as they finally put a shot on goal 9 minutes in, where is the heart? You could tell Wild Head Coach Todd Richards was fuming on the bench but how many more times can we see an effort like this?
Defenseman John Scott and Jaime Sifers should never be allowed on the ice again for the duration of the season as they are a disastrous turnover waiting to happen every shift they get. The Wild might as well give Justin Falk or even Nate Prosser a chance because they could not be much worse than Scott and Sifers are. The team might as well give a chance to Casey Wellman too since James Sheppard still has done nothing to warrant being re-signed this summer. Robbie Earl and Andrew Ebbett seem to want to stick around and were one of a few Wild players who seemed to exhibit effort the whole game. It was a shameful effort and unforgiveable lapse at this point in the season.
The Wild do not have a lot of time to feel sorry for itself as it travels to Columbus for a tilt tomorrow night. Even if the Wild have mentally given up on making the post-season there will be no excuse for anything less than an inspired effort on Friday.
~ The Wild’s roster tonight is as follows: Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Owen Nolan, Andrew Ebbett, Kyle Brodziak, Robbie Earl, Chuck Kobasew, Antti Miettinen, James Sheppard, Guillaume Latendresse, John Scott, Jaime Sifers, Nick Schultz, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky and Cam Barker. Wade Dubielewicz shared the duties between the pipes with Josh Harding. Casey Wellman and Derek Boogaard were healthy scratches. Clayton Stoner, Shane Hnidy, Niklas Backstrom and Brent Burns are all out with ‘lower body injuries’ while Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still on the shelf with post-concussion symptoms.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Colin Wilson, 2nd Star Jason Arnott, 3rd Star Pekka Rinne
WCHA Frozen Five Hockey Tournament:
This weekend starts the big WCHA Frozen Five hockey tournament hosted at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. With hometown favorite, the University of Minnesota out of the running it will mean that the five teams left to battle for the McNaughton Cup; St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, University of Minnesota: Duluth, North Dakota and Denver will slug it out with hopes of building some momentum for the NCAA tournament. Here are the matchups for tonight and Friday.
UMD Bulldogs (22-16-1) 0 Vs. North Dakota Fighting Sioux (22-12-5) 2
The last quarterfinal matchup between the UMD Bulldogs should make for an outstanding opening game of the WCHA Frozen Five. The Fighting Sioux controlled the season series winning 3 out of 4 against the Bulldogs. The lone UMD victory a 3-2 overtime decision won with sophomore Brady Hjelle (9-7-1 record, 2.85GAA, .895%) between the pipes places the Bulldogs with a tough choice; do they go with Hjelle who has been the go-to guy as of late or do they go with the more seasoned Kenny Reiter (13-9 record, 2.38GAA .905%)? Senior Chris Vande Velde, the former Moorhead Spuds star leads the Fighting Sioux with 14 goals and a modest 36 points, while sophomore Brad Eidsness has been solid between the pipes with an impressive 21-9-4 record, very stingy 2.09 goals against average and a .914% save percentage. Without question the Fighting Sioux will try to use their superior size to offset the finesse driven attack of UMD led by top scorers sophomore Jack Connolly (18 goals, 49 points) and junior Justin Fontaine (21 goals, 46 points) who has cooled off a bit in the 2nd half of the season. The Bulldogs may benefit from having a more UMD-friendly crowd but will have to work to get an early lead on the Fighting Sioux if they are have any chance at all. Prediction: 4-2 North Dakota prevails. (The winner and goal margin were correct but the Bulldogs went with Kenny Reiter, perhaps they’re questioning that choice now)